The thing about gardens is that everyone thinks they go on growing, that in winter they sleep and in spring they rise. But it's more that they die and return, die and return. They lose themselves. They haunt themselves.
Every story is a story about death. But perhaps, if we are lucky, our story about death is also a story about love.
And this is what I have remembered of love.
~ Helen Humphreys, The Lost Garden
I don't have a very nice kitchen, or much of a garden, so can't really claim a kitchen garden, but it's not important. There is very little I can claim; maybe nothing. Enjoying what I grow and eating some of it, that's what matters.
Lots of times lately I have been asked what I am doing this year, and I don't have a good answer. I say, maybe this, maybe that, I don't know. Sometimes I say I am a bit lost, but that's not true either. It feels like limbo, but not purgatory, not an ineffable floating about on a metaphorical wind, but more like a necessary waiting. A shedding of an old and worn out skin. I think that if I move about too much, or try too hard, I will miss the thing I am waiting for, suffocate it, stamp it out, and it will be a small thing, a quiet one, something that has been lying dormant for a very long time until the right conditions came along for it to grow. I'm talking nonsense, of course, but it's nonsense I believe. So I am waiting as quietly and patiently as I can, which isn't very, spending my days cleaning and cooking and drawing and gardening.
The best life advice I have read lately has to do with cultivating instinct. How when we see people with great skill, incredible instincts in their art or craft or profession, it can seem like they were born knowing what to do. But they never are. The author says this (the insert is mine):
If we were taught to cook (or dance or paint or write spreadsheets) as we were taught to walk, encouraged first to feel for pebbles with our toes, then to wobble forward and fall, and then had our hands firmly tugged on so we would try again, we would learn that being good at it relies on something deeply rooted, akin to walking, to get good at which we need only guidance, senses, and a little faith.
Instinct ... is not a destination but a path. The word instinct comes from a combination of in meaning "toward", and stinguere meaning "to prick". It doesn't mean knowing anything, but pricking your way toward the answer.
~ Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal
It's my garden that's been teaching me this more than anything at the moment. What I need to do and how I need to do it has come very slowly and with great difficulty. A green thumb I am not. But as I stop trying to replicate the thousand expert voices that only confuse and overload, and try a thing myself, and then another thing, gradually I do prick my way toward an answer. I replant a dying nasturtium into a shady corner, try capscium in a crowded pot, shove lettuce into odd spaces away from the heat, build large climbing frames for my supposed runner beans that are actually dwarf, notice the net over the grapes is big enough to let the grapes out and the birds in, that is too big, that they are sour anyway and maybe try an espaliered fruit tree instead, that I should mulch, and pick the tops out of the basil before they bolt away on me, notice that herbs bring me great pleasure but stunted beetroot does not, that I could try refrigerating my too small garlic bulbs next year to mimic a frost, that I hate to weed, but love my husband even more when he weeds for me, that growing my own food, even just a tiny little miniscule portion of it, helps me feel good about being alive.
These plants will die, yes. Maybe I will keep their seed and reproduce them, maybe I will replace them entirely. The garden will carry on, if not this one, then another, and I will carry on inching my way toward ways I can help it, be with it, enjoy it.
And this is what I remember of love. Love of life, love of people, love of being here at all. That it is an action, a movement, an often cack-handed stumbling toward. It can be slow and wobbly and travels back around on itself as often as not. That it means tripping, and falling, and always, always, finding some kind of a way to move forward again. Walking, crawling, bloodied hand over dragging elbow. That duty is not it, that rules are not it. In a necessary pinch they can substitute, but they will dry up and wear out, drying us up, and wearing us out. It is an adventure story, a finite, dangerous, never-to-be-repeated adventure story. We can refuse it, ignore it, bury it under the weight of fear and surety that in the end we will all, to some degree, fail. But the shadow of our longings will haunt us, feeding despair and hopelessness, which is just another way of love calling for our attention from inside its makeshift grave. We can numb ourselves into a kind of non-existence where we hardly notice it at all, but not totally, not always. A colour, a verse, a tragedy, will catch us off guard and knock our safe illusions back to the pit from which they came. Love is, at its core, life's great Yes and Amen. The best response, which is terrifying as hell, is to close our eyes, open our arms, and jump right into the middle of the thing.
I'm talking nonsense, of course. But it's nonsense I believe.